A government push for increased powers to stop criminal non-citizens from being allowed to stay in Australia has led a Liberal senator to claim the visas of 10,000 “violent criminal offenders” have been cancelled since the coalition came to power.
The claim refers to visas cancelled and refused under section 501 of the Migration Act, the law that allows the government to deny visas for foreign nationals deemed to be of bad character. But the claim is mostly false and contains two significant inaccuracies.
Firstly, the 10,000 figure relies on adding together both visa cancellations (around 7000) and visa refusals (around 3000) issued under section 501, which are two separate things.
Secondly, non-citizens who have had their visas cancelled under section 501 are not all “violent criminal offenders”. While violent criminal behaviour was the reason for a majority of section 501 visa cancellations, many related to non-violent crimes or due to a visa holder having links to known criminals.
Additionally, some visa cancellations were subsequently overturned on appeal.
The claim about the number of visa cancellations was made on February 16 by Senator Jane Hume, the minister for superannuation, financial services and the digital economy. A post on Senator Hume’s Facebook page said: “Since the Liberals came to Government, we’ve cancelled 10,000 visas of violent criminal offenders, vs 1000 under Labor.”
Senator Hume’s office confirmed to AAP FactCheck in an email that the post referred to visas cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act.
Under the powers provided in section 501, the Home Affairs minister may cancel or refuse a visa to any person the minister believes has committed offences in immigration detention or while escaping immigration detention, been involved with a criminal group, been involved in people smuggling, people trafficking, genocide or war crimes, or who is otherwise deemed to be a danger to the Australian community.
Additionally, section 501(3A) says that a person’s visa must be cancelled if they have ever committed a sex crime involving a child or if they have a “substantial criminal record”. Visa applicants are deemed to have a “substantial criminal record” if they have been sentenced to at least 12 months in prison (either as a single sentence or as a total of multiple sentences).
Between December 11, 2014, and January 31, 2022, the federal government cancelled 7,007 visas and refused 3,151 visas under section 501 of the Migration Act, according to Home Affairs data supplied to AAP FactCheck.
Rebecca Powell, research manager of the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre (MMIC) at Monash University, told AAP FactCheck that cancellations generally relate to non-citizen residents of Australia while visa refusals generally apply to non-citizens applying for visas before entering Australia or temporary visa holders applying for permanent residency. Conflating cancellations and refusals is not a “fair or responsible” use of the data, Ms Powell said in an email.
While it would be true to say that around 10,000 visas have been either cancelled or refused under section 501, Ms Hume is not accurate in her claim that 10,000 visas have been ‘cancelled’.
A bigger flaw in Ms Hume’s claim is that visa cancellations under section 501 do not solely relate to violent crime, as was claimed in her Facebook post. The most common reason for a section 501 visa cancellation is drug offences, which at 1,359 accounted for 19 per cent of all cancellations between December 11, 2014, and January 31, 2022, according to Home Affairs data supplied to AAP FactCheck.
Fraud, deception and "white collar crime" accounted for 307, or about four per cent, of cancellations, driving offences for 121 or around two per cent and other unspecified "non-violent offences" accounted for 369, or around five per cent, of cancellations.
While the visa cancellation categories provided to AAP FactCheck do not clearly label 'violent' and 'non-violent' crimes, non-violent behaviour appears to account for a significant number of section 501 visa cancellations, including offences.
A 2017 submission to a parliamentary committee from Monash University's Border Crossing Observatory argued that "the largest categories of visa cancellation by most serious crime type are for common assault (which may be very minor or result in substantive harm that falls short of grievous harm), drug offences (which could include individual possession or other arguably 'victimless' crimes) and other forms of non-violent crime, including driving offences, which may not result in serious harm against individuals" (see page 7).
Senator Hume's claim also omits the fact that some cancelled visas are reinstated on appeal. According to figures published by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), 25 per cent of section 501 visa cancellations in 2020-21 were appealed (page 70), and 33 per cent of those appeals were successful in overturning or varying the initial decision (page 48).
Statistics about section 501 appeals are also covered in this response to a Freedom of Information request, which shows 17 per cent of appeals between 2014 and 2020 were varied or overturned on appeal (see Table 4, page 3).
Asked about the source for the claim that 1000 violent offender visas were cancelled under Labor, Senator Hume's office referred to a statement made in parliament by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on February 15 (see page 30). According to data from this 2016 Commonwealth Ombudsman report, between 2007/08 and 2012/13, when Labor was last in government, a total of 675 visas were cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act.
The number of section 501 visa cancellations rose sharply after the coalition government introduced new rules in 2014 requiring mandatory visa cancellations in certain circumstances (see page 3 of the Ombudsman report).
The claim the government has cancelled the visas of 10,000 "violent criminal offenders" contains two significant flaws.
The first issue is that the 10,000 figure consists of both visa cancellations and visa refusals, which are two different things.
The second and more significant problem with the claim is that not all visa cancellations made under section 501 of the Migration Act relate to violent criminal behaviour. A significant number of cancellations are due to non-violent criminal offences or association with known criminals.
Mostly False – The claim is mostly inaccurate but includes minor elements of truth.